Rewilding Happen(ing)s!

Time for a Forest Ecosystem Advisory Council

by David Brynn, VFF Executive Director

This commentary first appeared in VTDigger, Feb 3, 2023.

“Voila verde monts!” exclaimed Samuel de Champlain in 1609 when he paddled up the lake that now bears his name. Not just green mountains, verdant ones. 

Even though we have stripped the forests and built roads straight up hills and next to streams, we are fortunate Vermont still wants to be healthy, intact, and forested. Given the land’s inherent tendency toward resilience, it is easy to be complacent, but we must remember what UVM’s Justin Brand said: “Without ecology there is no economy!”

A rapidly changing and increasingly unpredictable climate is demanding that we change our relationships with Vermont’s forest ecosystems. We need to move from forest resource management as job one to putting forest ecosystem conservation first. 

We need a political process that encourages more involvement by people who love their forests, which are the foundation of our way of life. In addition to the most holistic science possible, we must also employ compassion, self-control and gratitude at every turn. We must always be aware of conflicting interests and work to address them in fair and equitable ways. No small task!

Vermont needs to open to the input of interested, informed, compassionate Vermonters who see their forests as complex ecosystems that support private, public and common interests. Forest management and control is of course part of the mix, but it is time to move well beyond just that. 

Last year, a small band of Vermonters promoted expanding the current use program to include the adoption of a new forest land use category they called Wildland Reserves. A whole lot of good came out of their efforts.

The political system currently makes reasonable change difficult and a well-positioned few can easily control and limit the sustainable options for many. 

Vermont once had a forest resources advisory council that had a forest resource management focus. It empowered more elements of the Vermont community to participate in finding informed, holistic decisions. After many effective years, the advisory council languished and was officially written off in 2009. It had served its purpose.

It is time to bring back a vehicle for citizen involvement in the processes that inform the ways that we relate to Vermont forests. It is especially important that we focus more attention on our ecological commons — water, wildlife, atmospheric carbon, and forest resilience. 

All of these are unenclosed, and all of these are held by all Vermonters. They should be conserved for the benefit of the whole forest community. 

The state of Vermont is trustee of our water, wildlife and air. I propose that we adopt a Forest Ecosystem Advisory Council to add a strong third leg to the government and business legs of our forestry community. The Forest Ecosystem Advisory Council could be populated by real people, as opposed to corporations or government agencies. And unlike the former advisory council, which was housed in the executive branch, the Forest Ecosystem Advisory Council ought to be attached and immediately available to the legislative branch. 

The council ought to be based on watersheds nested in ecoregions. It could inform and inspire the monitoring of forest ecosystem health. It would welcome well-trained citizen scientists. It could be informed by the Vermont Forest Ecosystem Monitoring Cooperative. 

It could help implement the Vermont Conservation Design while respecting and honoring the right of private property owners to manage their trees and soils as they see fit if they do not have negative off-site impacts on the health of Vermont’s ecological commons. 

Hopefully the Forest Ecosystem Advisory Council could get Vermont government out of the private timber procurement business and leave that function to the private sector, which is much better at it. 

It is time for a Forest Ecosystem Advisory Council in Vermont. This is not an expensive proposition. The ecological and social benefits will be enormous.

May the forest be with us!